Who’s up for a game of chess?

IbmProduct placement is all well and good, but what if your brand is cast as the villain, perhaps unfairly, in a documentary?

That’s the position IBM is in—admittedly in a low-budget film that few people will see, but still. The subject of Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine is the stunning media circus/chess championship held in New York in 1997 between Garry Kasparov, the world champion and perhaps the greatest player of all time, and the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue. The film tells you straight off that Kasparov lost. It then examines why the Russian grandmaster—a man “whose whole manner radiated invincibility,” as Michael Betcherman writes in his excellent review here—cracked under pressure.

The whole Deep Blue phenomenon is fascinating in terms of the PR it earned for IBM. The company had to be careful—it righly believed that people, with visions of The Terminator in their heads, would be inclined to root for a human over a machine. That’s why it gave the computer such a soothing name, and why it sent out a press release that insisted, “Deep Blue is stunningly effective at solving chess problems, but it is less ‘intelligent’ than even the stupidest human.”

The film is gripping. But it unfortunately lingers on Kasparov’s post-match assertion, never proven, that IBM had its programmers help “the terrible faceless monster” during the games. And several times, a voiceover whispers, “Consider this. The day that Deep Blue beat Kasparov, IBM’s stock rose 15 percent”—a claim that is flat-out untrue.

IBM will no doubt keep its mouth shut about the film—and wisely so. But it’s worth checking out. And lucky you (if you live in New York): It’s playing this week at Cinema Village.

—Posted by Tim Nudd